Seeking a new vision
Community invited to propose ideas for Picton town hall
Built in 1862, the Picton town hall was in its early days the centrepiece of a booming town. The building has had a storied past and has seen its prominence rise and fall. By 1922, it was in a sorry state and urgently needed repair. A devastating fire in 1923 prompted calls for it to be demolished. Instead, it was rebuilt that year and continued to serve as an important community hub for many decades. In 1988, the hall was once again restored following years of neglect. The main floor of the hall housed the Picton fire station, and the upper floor was used for a variety of arts and community events, providing a low-cost venue for many organizations. When the fire hall was vacated in 2017 following the construction of a new station on McDonald Drive, County council proposed that the hall be declared surplus and sold. The resulting outcry from community organizations forced council to initiate a request for proposal process, which led to the formation of a group that sought to keep the hall as a public space. “Some people were concerned that the loss of this space would have a negative impact on their groups and the social life of the town,” said Councillor Lenny Epstein. “There was a town hall meeting and a group formed, called Save Picton Town Hall. [It] is going to put in a proposal and wants it to be a community driven process that ultimately will be a model for sustainable activities in this building that will help cover the cost of maintenance and operations.”
On Sunday, the group held a meeting at the town hall and invited residents to bring their ideas about new activities and how the building could remain as a publically accessible space. Over 50 people showed up to share their vision of the future for the town hall. In a stroke of creativity, local artists were invited to sketch the ideas that came up during the discussions. To provide some historical background and set the context for the meeting, Leslie Smail-Persaud showed a video, A History of Picton Town Hall, narrated by Sarah Moran. During the video, Moran noted the many uses of the town hall through its history, from farmers’ market, to opera house to movie theatre, and its current uses, including the community meals provided by Food not Bombs. “This community effort is at the other end of a long tradition,” she said. “In 1876, Walter Ross’s daughter sang with friends and neighbours in a concert from which proceeds were allocated to provide food and fuel for the poor.” Following the video, Smail-Persaud asked the attendees to answer the following question: If Picton town hall could be the best town hall you could imagine, what would it be? Epstein added that “blue sky thinking” was encouraged.
The resulting discussions were energetic and animated. In addition to the words being written on the paper-covered tables, the artists were sketching their vision of the ideas. Some of the ideas were a continuation of the historical uses of the hall, others were totally new, such as a health care hub, native plant nursery or a popup tea room. A few ideas came from the rarefied air of the blue sky, such as a climbing wall inside the hose tower. “That would put Picton on the map, people,” said artist Krista Dalby.
The next step is for the group to take all those ideas and use them to create a plan that will include revenue generation and identification of potential partnerships in order to form a proposal that can be presented to council. Smail- Persaud was pleased with the turnout and the energy in the room. “It exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I was really happy to see a lot of people come out today, and just have that community spirit, of sharing conversation and sharing ideas. Everything was on the table and I think we got some really good things to move forward with.”